Hi, guys. It’s been awhile. I’ve been busy with some work stuff and more importantly, some birthday party stuff.
Yeah, I’m 31 years old and I still care about my birthday. I realize this may seem juvenile, or just plain self-centered, and, yeah, it may very well be those things. But to me at least, it’s also something more.
If you know me fairly well, you’ll know that the last few years have been pretty rough. Between health problems that have lingered for far too long and the anxiety and depression that so often go along with feeling bad for far too long, things haven’t been great sometimes.
I don’t say that for pity or sympathy or anything. (I suck with pity and sympathy. Don’t give it to me. I’ll be awkward about it.) Besides, I am getting better. Just far more slowly than I’d like to. And, even with all that, I’m still far luckier than a whole heck of a lot of other people. I get that.
I just say these things because I want you to know where I’m coming from when I tell you that sometimes feeling well enough to celebrate is reason enough to celebrate.
Life is too short, and frankly sometimes too hard, for you not to do the things you want to do when you want to do them.
So if you feel good (physically, mentally, the whole deal) celebrate, man. Find the things that bring you joy and embrace them unapologetically and enthusiastically. Even if they seem silly. Even if they seem stupid. Even if they seem weird.
Because who cares if it’s weird? Just be you. Just go for it. Go big. Go bold.
And I had big plans for it. Because I love big plans. (This is one of the several hundred ways I hope to one day be like Leslie Knope.)
Unfortunately, unlike Leslie Knope, I sometimes don’t do as well with time-management, so my big plans are fine until I actually need to do them. At this point, I usually realize I have overdone it and I look a little something like this:
Because the thing is, I got carried away with the bakes. As it was a GBBS-themed birthday party, I had to deliver on the bakes, right? Of course, I did. The only problem was I decided to deliver on six of them.
If you’ve been following along with the blog, you’ll know that I’m still a novice baker. With most of the desserts I’ve tackled so far, the time I make them for the blog is the first time I’ve baked them. So, yeah, just to remind you, I’m essentially approaching every bake like this:
But, I figured I would just do some of the bakes I’d done before, so it should be no big deal, right? I mean, I’d already done them once (to varying degrees of success) but I figured the second time would be easier.
Uhh….yeah, I was wrong. Because some of the bakes weren’t necessarily easier the second time around and some of them I didn’t end up doing at all, because, umm, time was a factor (a factor I did not manage well).
Of these, Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake is the only thing I abandoned entirely, because I didn’t have time. I did however manage to bake everything else, again to varying degrees of success.
But I can say that my Swiss Cake Roll actually looked like a Swiss Cake Roll this time. Which is a massive improvement from my first attempt which looked like a folded, cracked mess of cream. Don’t remember that particular bake? Check out the first blog in my series. Yeah, I’ve come a long way from there baby, if I do say so myself (at least when it comes to Swiss Cake Rolls.
I did however manage to sort of (mostly) burn a good chunk of the Florentines and the sugar cookies. I then decided to partially dip the sugar cookies in almond bark to cover up the burned bits. Shhhh…don’t tell anyone they were a little burned. It will be our little secret.
And the tiramisu cake, well, that turned out to be the most annoying thing of all. In retrospect, the fact that I was making it about an hour before people arrived and I probably wasn’t in the best head-space was probably part of the problem.
Anyhoo, on GBBS, Mary Berry’s Tiramisu Cake was a technical challenge so our normally-lovable GBBS judge, Mary Berry, made it extra tricky for the GBBS contestants. For starters, she made the bakers cut a sponge cake that was approximately an inch thick, in half. Horizontally. This is just brutal.
I wanted to have the tallest sponge cake possible for my tiramisu cake, because, well I had to cut in half. Horizontally, remember? Which is just nuts. So I was careful not to over-mix, which Mary warned me could reduce the cake’s height. Unfortunately, I under-mixed it. So when I cut my sponge cake in half, there where just a bunch of chunks of unmixed flour inside of it.
So, yeah, I had to make a whole other sponge cake for the Tiramisu Cake. But this time I wasn’t playing Mary Berry’s cut-cakes-in-half-horizontally-game, so instead I just doubled the recipe and made two cakes. That way I wouldn’t have to cut them in half to get the number of layers I needed. This was sort of genius on my part. So yeah, I was feeling pretty good.
Unfortunately, when I was putting the cake together, I forgot that I had essentially doubled the thickness of my sponge cake, so in turn, I would need to double the amount of coffee/rum mixture I would need to soak said sponges. So, yeah my cake wasn’t as coffee/rum soaked as it should have been.
And, as for the coffee and walnut cakes, yeah, those didn’t get their little decorations on top because yeah, time was a problem.
But the thing is, none of that really mattered. All that mattered is the fact that I had a Great British Baking Show party. And it had all of this stuff:
Union Jack Bunting!
Union Jack Ceilings!
And all of this food:
Tiramisu B-Day Cake!
Bakes on Gingham!
But, most importantly, of all, it had a bunch of my favorite people in the same place at the same time. And that’s pretty freaking great and had me feeling like:
So thanks to everyone who came out for the party! And special thanks to Molly who did the decorations. (She will pretend I did, but I did not.) And to Sharon and Beth for helping me with last-minute cooking, baking and dish-washing. You’re the best. And to Aunt Mona who was smart enough to take photos, when I was not. P.S. I used some of your pictures.
Anyhoo, next week, I’ll get back to my regular baking schedule. I’m supposed to be making a tower of pies. Which after the party, should be easy, right?
I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).
Update 7-12-2017: It’s come to my attention that this blog post has been posted on a cooking website, without my knowledge and without giving me credit. I’m all for sharing, but please give me credit or at least link to my site so people can see my other original content. Thanks.
I usually start each post by announcing what this week’s bake was, but this time I have to talk about something else first.
I’ve got to talk about Val, guys! I just have to.
The new (for America) GBBS season 4 is now on PBS. Four episodes are available so far, and in those four episodes, I have fallen in love with Val. Everyone has fallen in love with Val.
Val is a semi-retired, primary school head teacher who has been baking for more than 60 years. She dances around while she bakes, and says her cakes sing to her when they’re ready. Also, she makes everywhere she goes happier and brighter and kinder, simply by being there.
She’s lovely, just lovely. (Even Paul Hollywood, of glacial stare fame, said “I love Val.” He doesn’t normally throw that kind of affection around. But it seems that even he couldn’t help himself. No one can help themselves. Val’s loveliness is infectious.)
I mean, just check out some of her highlights:
Val is ridiculously sweet, silly, warm and kind. And the world could always use more people like her.
Kindness, in particular is the most underrated quality in people, and it especially seems like that lately when, in our Internet-troll-filled world, cruelty is often mistaken for cleverness and rudeness is mistaken for strength.
For the sake of my sanity and my faith in humanity, I have to be reminded that there are nice people out there. I need to hear about the Vals of the world. I’ve got to know they’re out there, sharing baked goods and goodness and just generally Hufflepuffing it up.
(P.S. If you don’t know what Hufflepuffs are, seriously, just go read Harry Potter already, please. But suffice it to say that the Hufflepuffs are the nice ones in the Harry Potter universe. They’re also the best ones, not that any true Hufflepuff would say that, because you know, bragging’s not nice and stuff.)
So, since the Hufflepuffs of the world aren’t going to say it for themselves, I’ll say it for them. They’re the best. The gosh darn best. Thank God for the Hufflepuffs, thank God for Val and thank God for nice.
I freaking love tiramisu, so I was super excited about this bake and because I’ve eaten a fair bit of the dessert in my time, I was also dangerously cocky.
Basically, I was like, I’ve got this.
Except sometimes I didn’t have it, really. And that started right from the very beginning with my baking set-up. The recipe called for me to build up layers of brandy-and-coffee-soaked sponge cake, mascarpone cheese and chocolate shavings in a square pan.
According to Ms. Berry’s helpful instructions on her and Paul’s GBBS Masterclass Season 1 Part 2 episode, ideally I’d have a loose-based, high-sided, square pan for this assembly. And, yeah, I didn’t have that. I also couldn’t easily find one at local stores and I wasn’t about to pay more than $30 for the ones I saw online. So, I got creative and I basically used trash.
First, I cut a roughly 7-inch square from a piece of cardboard. I used a beer six-pack container. I didn’t actually dig the cardboard out of the trash. I took this out of the beer fridge. (Shhhh. Everyone has beer fridges. That’s totally normal.) Then I covered my cardboard square with tinfoil.
Then I got out the only square baking dish I had, a glass one without a loose bottom. I made two very long strips of parchment paper and placed one vertically across the dish and one horizontally. (This part’s pretty close to Mary’s instruction’s actually.) Then I put my tinfoil-covered cardboard square on top of that. This was my attempt at making a loose bottom pan alternative.
And yeah, I was really, weirdly proud of it. I had no idea if it would work, but I thought it looked pretty handy, considering I had no idea what I was doing.
And then, feeling-pretty dang pleased with myself, I got on with my bake. First, you start with a simple sponge cake which only has eggs, caster sugar (I’ve just given up and just started using granulated sugar) and self-rising flour.
When I watched the Masterclass episode on this, Mary repeatedly talked about how the most important part thing about this cake was that it maintained its volume. So to do that, I had to try to keep as many air bubbles in it as possible.
That meant I had to whip up the eggs and sugar for a really, really long time. I used an electric hand mixer on it for about five minutes. (Okay, my definition of a “really, really long time” may be different than other people’s). Mary said the mixture was supposed to become very pale and thick.
Then I had to sift in the flour and fold it in gently. Mary was very clear on this. She was also insistent that when I pour the batter into the pan, I didn’t do it from a great height, because apparently this removes some of the air bubbles from the cake and takes away its volume. So I did everything as she instructed and my cake batter did look pretty bubblicious.
I felt pretty pleased with myself, bubble-wise. At this point, I basically thought I was crushing it and I was feeling pretty good.
Then I had to bake the cake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or until, as Mary said, it was risen, golden-brown and springy to the touch. And, for once, I did. I didn’t burn it, guys. Just look at this:
At this point, I was getting dangerously pleased with myself and I was totally ready to take on the next step, the filling.
The filling is pretty simple. You dissolve instant coffee granules in boiling water and mix it with a bit of brandy (100 ml.) and then you let it cool. Then you mix together 3 (9 oz) tubs of full-fat mascarpone cheese, heavy whipping cream (the Brits call it “double cream”) and sifted powered sugar (Brits call it “icing sugar) in a big bowl. And, you do the step I forgot to do at this point: you grate some dark chocolate. I used baking milk chocolate instead.
I also made a small substitution for the mascarpone cheese. I was supposed to use 3 (9 oz) tubs but the kind I found in the store came in 8 ounces, so I just used those. I could have bought a fourth tub to make up the difference, but I was too cheap to do that.
Anyway, here’s what my mixed up mascarpone cheese filling looked like, once it was all whipped up:
Then I popped that in the fridge and since my cake was now cool, it was time for the cutting. I was really nervous for this part because my cake wasn’t exactly tall, but somehow I was supposed to cut it in half horizontally. Which totally seemed impossible.
I was worried about this for two reasons: 1) because, frankly I didn’t think there was enough cake there to cut in half and 2) because, I’m super crazy klutzy and cutting a cake in half horizontally seemed like a prime time for me to accidentally cut myself.
But, guess what, guys? I didn’t cut myself and I somehow actually cut that super-thin cake in half. Horizontally! I put my makeshift cake bottom on the cake to steady it and then I used a knife in a saw-like motion to cut across the cake, just like Mary told me to. And, it actually worked. Then I used the cake bottom as a guide again to cut two, 7-inch squares from each of my new cake layers.
Cake cut in half. It looks mostly okay.
Cake cut into four 7-inch squares.
And, yeah, they didn’t look perfect, but they looked far better than I thought they would, so I took it as a win.
Then came the layering. First, I put my fake cake bottom back in my pan and I put one of my new square cake layers on top of that. The recipe then says to spoon a quarter of your coffee-brandy mixture over the cake.
(I poured the mixture into a measuring cup and it turned out to be exactly a cup of liquid, so I just put a 1/4 cup on each layer of cake.) Then, as Mary advised, I put a quarter of my mascarpone cheese mixture on that and then I was supposed to put a third of my chocolate shavings on top of that.
(At this point, I realized I hadn’t grated my chocolate. Since yesterday was one of the hottest days of the year the chocolate grating was well, grating my nerves. As Mary so often says on Masterclass “Chocolate doesn’t need much heat to melt, it will melt in a child’s pocket.” It also melted all over my hands. It was a mess but a delicious mess.)
My chocolate now grated though, I finished my first layer.
You continue your layers until your fourth and final layer ends on a layer of mascarpone cheese (because you divided the grated chocolate into thirds not quarters). Then put your layered tiramisu cake back in the fridge. For.At.Least.An.Hour.
Here’s the thing: I totally did not realize I had to chill this for an hour, because, I didn’t read the directions that thoroughly before I started. Heads up, you should read the directions thoroughly before you start. Had I done this, I might not have started baking this so late at night, but, eh, honestly, I probably would have anyway. Either way though, now I had some waiting to do. Which sucked.
On the plus side, this gave me time to work on my next step: the chocolate decorations that are supposed to go on top. First, you have to melt half your dark chocolate you reserved for this and get it to a specific temperature: 127 F. Then you stir in the other half of your chocolate and melt it. From here, let it cool down to at least 88 F or until it’s cool enough to pipe. Mine was around 75 F. Then pour your melted chocolate into a piping bag.
From here, the recipe suggests you lay out a parchment paper to do your designs on. In the Masterclass episode, Mary sketches her designs on paper she places below her parchment paper so she can pipe over them. I did that too. But then I just kind of free-handed my designs anyway, because it was more fun. It wasn’t prettier, but it was more fun.
Then you have to let your chocolate designs cool and set.
Now, it was time for the part I was most scared of, I had to try to remove the cake from the square pan I made it in and move it on to a nearby cake stand. To do this, I brought all four ends of my parchment paper toward the middle of my cake and pulled up on them, placing my hand under my makeshift tinfoil cake base as I did it. Then I put the base on the cake stand and slid the parchment paper out from underneath the base.
(P.S. I would have taken a picture of this step, but I was really focused on the whole, not dropping the cake I spent hours on thing, and there weren’t enough hands for left to take a pic.)
But it totally, absolutely worked, guys!
Then I sprinkled a bit of cocoa powder on top of my totally-not-ruined cake and, once my chocolate decorations had set, I put those on top too. My cake didn’t look too bad really:
And then, finally came the part that I was waiting for. After hours of work and time and energy, I cut myself a piece.
And, I…didn’t like it.
At first bite, I wasn’t that crazy about this tiramisu cake, which stinks because I am crazy about tiramisu. But, as it happens, I’m not crazy about brandy. Turns out, I’m only a fan of brandy if it’s by Looking Glass or if it’s paired with Monica. (Yeah, those references might not make sense unless you click on the links.)
If I had to make this cake again, which actually I might, because it wasn’t really that hard, I’d make sure to add all of the mascarpone cheese, which would probably help mellow out the taste of the brandy. I also might use a bit less brandy, at least a quarter of a cup less I think and I may add double the amount of powered sugar to the mascarpone cheese just to make it a bit sweeter.
But, the good news is, after a night in the fridge, the tiramisu cake was a lot better this morning after the brandy had had a chance to mellow out. (Yes, I ate tiramisu cake for breakfast. This is a totally normal thing to do.)
So, all’s well that ends well.
And for the record, I’m definitely counting this as an “ends well”. I didn’t massively screw up a single step this week. So, yay! I’m just going to slink out (or dance out) of here while I’m ahead.
Next week, I take on the dreaded Baked Alaska, which even in the GBBS world, turned out to be a pretty big deal. And, because I have to, I’ll also delve into the #Bingate controversy. #JusticeforIain.
Until then, I’ll be obsessively re-watching the fourth season of GBBS to get more Val, or I’ll re-watch Sleepless in Seattle, which was what introduced me to tiramisu in the first place.